Charles Chaplin and Edna Purviance
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Charlie Discovers Edna
A Wonderful Bit of Chance and Speculation
Two Lives in Two Different Worlds
Written and Research By Linda Wada © – January 17, 2005
Released – September 10, 2006


Edna was more than a pretty face. She had an active childhood with experiences and opportunities that would seem like a dream to some children. Lovelock, Nevada was not just any old rural railroad town when Edna lived there. It was a town brimming with enthusiasm for its future – an oasis in the Nevada desert

Edna about two-years old. Photo: Hill Family Collection copyrighted.

In Edna’s childhood there was no radio or television. There were very few things powered by electricity. Gas and coal were still the main power source. Telephones and cars were still limited to the wealthy.

Stagecoaches, buggies, horseback and getting about on foot were basic Nevada transportation. The most modern transportation was the train. Cars were just starting to show up in the area between 1900 to 1907, with Edna's family members being some of the first owners and even dealers.

Live entertainment ruled the day! The newspaper brought in the world news, and the telegraph was in its heyday. Small town gossip on the street corners and in the cafes were a major source of local news and entertainment.

All this was to surround Edna Purviance, but her life didn’t start in the place that newcomers called ‘that metropolis’ (Lovelock). The beginning took place in much quieter pastures.

Edna was too young to remember her birthplace of Paradise Valley, but her family - after 12 years residence - were old timers in the town.

Their move to Lovelock occurred in late November 1898. Edna stayed her first night at the Big Meadow Hotel, not knowing that she would live out her childhood in a hotel just a block away.

Her parents leased the well known Singer Hotel - a two-story building that filled nearly every square foot of its lot. Edna’s father Madison ran the small saloon and helped her mother Louise manage the rooms the Purviance’s had available for rent. A small cafe was also leased and was the family kitchen, as well.

After leasing the property for a year, Madison purchased the hotel. Within a short period of time, the family would sublet the operation of nearly the whole hotel – giving the Purviances a notable parcel of free time.

Edna’s mother Louise filled her social calendar. Louise’s social life brought a lot of faces and personalities into Edna’s young life.

Louise was known as good singer. She was in demand for her talent at special events, church services and even funerals. Unlike Chaplin’s mother, Edna’s mother sang for pleasure, not for profit.

Louise raised three beautiful performers! All were described as, pretty, good-natured, charming and blonde (in their youth), and the three sisters would create their own splash in Lovelock.

Bessie Purviance, Louise’s oldest, appeared to be the best all-round performer. She was praised for her singing, piano playing and stage performances for the local dramatic club. She even traveled around the county performing in stage productions.

Myrtle Purviance, the middle sister two years younger than Bessie, was the wittiest, and had a great flair for humor. While Myrtle loved performing, she was busy building a career starting with secretarial work in Carson City, the Nevada state capital. Myrtle worked as a reporter for a local newspaper, and later made her living as a secretary and accountant.

Edna was the youngest of the sisters by 11 years. Edna combined the talents of both her sisters. She was studious (on the Lovelock Honor Roll) and talented (praised for her piano playing).
Edna was an experienced performer: singing (in her younger years), and even acting, like her sisters, on the local stage. She loved giving 'little performances' for her family and friends at private parties. I found Edna in Lovelock stage productions and even giving a magic show at the newest silver mining town, Seven Troughs.

But even with all the performing, Edna was shy. She was most comfortable surrounded with the people she knew. This didn't mean she was shy about meeting new people. Edna spent her whole childhood meeting new people at the hotel her family owned. She shared many meals with 'strangers' from around the world who passed through Lovelock.

Edna caught the entertaining bug from her parents and relatives. Her father Madison loved to entertain hotel guests with stories and bits of magic that even amazed the local press. Edna spent several long summers with her aunt and uncle, the Browns, in Winnemucca. Her cousins were music talents, and her uncle Charles (C.B. Brown) was especially well-known throughout the Great Basin region for his colorful storytelling and jokes. C.B. also played in the local band.

Edna Purviance grew up in a storytelling tradition that was enjoyed by all her family. A tradition continued by her grand niece, Lita Hill.

People were just more sociable in Edna’s day, for that was the norm. People did not have to deal with the life-stealing distractions we have today. Life was easygoing and familiar. If the young folks wanted a party, in a matter of hours they could find musicians and a dance floor, rustle up some food and have themselves a nice gathering.

Edna’s world was not all sweetness and light. She experienced harsh realities as well, especially the difficult divorce of her parents. The full story of that event is covered in this story (Madison Gates Purviance)

Madison and Louise’s marriage had always had its rocky moments, but the problems were magnified by Madison’s growing problems with alcohol. He was spending more time at the local saloons gambling and drinking.

The British-born Louise was always described as a typically English lady with a gentle, quiet reserve – a quality that Edna inherited. Louise surely had a strong inner will. Her willpower and strong family support got her through her divorce from Madison at a time when divorce was not widely socially acceptable.

Divorce was almost unthinkable act for a woman in 1902, but in the end, Louise was free and was awarded all the estate and custody of her two minor daughters, Edna and Myrtle.

Madison fought the divorce half-heartedly. He made accusations that Louise was having an affair, but he never tried to prove his case. In the long run, he loved his daughters and knew Louise would be a very good mother to them.

Charlie’s parents divorced when he was also very young. Divorce was a Chaplin family disaster that turned his world upside down. For Edna, experiencing her parents’ divorce may have influenced Edna to be particularly cautious about marriage.


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Photo of Edna copyrighed Hill Family Collection. All other content Copyright 2016 - Linda Wada, WadaWorks, All Rights Reserved